Travel risk assessment strategy for women solo travelers!

Recently I was asked “Which country is safe for my first solo travel?” by a lady blogger who is still a student and needs her parent’s approval for the trip. Parents are naturally worried and need confidence that their ward will be safe abroad. It is a very genuine concern and there's no way one can give a blanket assurance "Go to this country, nothing will happen". There're hundreds of factors that may lead to an unwanted incidence. Though I’ve done several solo trips, the concerns faced by young women solo travelers are totally different. There’re many women bloggers who’ve written extensively about solo travel but I felt I should jot down my thoughts about this topic, for the benefit of my readers.
Is it risky to travel solo?

There is a risk in everything we do in life. Walking on the street has a risk that some vehicle may knock us down. Some thief can grab your bag in a busy market and run away before you realize that has happened. A fight might break out with you and another fellow passenger in a bus or train and so on. So if there is a risk in India, there is a risk abroad, there will be risks when you travel.

Does it mean one should never travel solo?
Running away from problem is never a solution. Same for risk. The right approach would be to deal with the risks in following way:
Step 1: Identify all possible risks – list everything that can go possibly go wrong
Step 2: Identify the probability (what is the likelihood of occurrence of that risk)
Step 3: Identify the severity of impact of that risk (how badly you’ll be affected if it happens)
Step 4: What can be done to avoid the risk?
Step 5 What can be done to minimize the impact of the risk if it occurs
Step 6: How to recover from that risk if it occurs and impacts heavily?

With above steps in mind, let us analyse various possible risks faced by solo travelers (assume women) in a foreign country (let us assume somewhere in South East Asia- Thailand or Vietnam or Bali etc. Below is my general assessment, please read and customize for your scenario.
Risk 1: Losing Passport
Probability
Low
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Keep in person/safe locker, don’t carry while leaving hotel if not necessary
Keep checking regularly
Minimizing Impact
Have photocopies & soft copy,
keep emergency cash separate,
have details of Indian embassy handy
Recovery
File FIR, try to search/get it back with help from police/hotel/airport staff if possible
Approach Indian embassy for temporary passport
Claim Insurance compensation

Risk 2: Losing Wallet
Probability
Medium
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Keep in safe place,
Don’t keep all money in one place, even if one wallet is lost/taken at gunpoint there should be some backup cash elsewhere to manage rest of the trip
Keep checking at regular intervals
Minimizing Impact
Avoid keeping unnecessary stuff in wallet
Keep backup cash elsewhere
Recovery
Try to file a complaint/check CCTV footage etc

Risk 3: Personal Safety during the trip (kidnap/rape/assault/harassment)
Probability
Very Low-Low
Severity
High- Very High
How to Avoid
Be attentive to your surroundings, particularly in public places- do not get lost in phone, camera, talking etc

Avoid trusting random people completely, even if they appear genuine. It is ok to meet random people and make friends, but if you’re trusting them beyond a limit assess the risks involved (Example: Having some talk in the tour bus is fine but if he tries to get details of your hotel, room number or where exactly you will be tomorrow evening, it should ring a bell)

Cross check information, learn to assess motives, predict things that can go wrong

Keep others (friends in city, family back home etc) informed about your plans and movements,

Keep a backup plan in mind, Learn to trust your intuition what is safe, what is not. Don’t hesitate to walkout.

Pre-travel research on how safe is a destination, which areas to avoid, what are the common tricks adopted by culprits to trap their victims (example: spiking a drink is a real risk- avoid accepting drinks from unknown or recently acquainted people.

Better situation awareness
-You've had multiple drinks and few more would compromise your alertness/stability- Do you know when to stop drinking and head back?
-You realize someone is following you- Can you decide on right way out- Confront him? Take help from nearby home/shops? Run away fast? Evade him through tricky navigation?
-Do you have a sense of location and direction? Which part of city are you in? Which way you are more likely to find more people? Where is nearest bus stop/police station/hospital

Take tips from women solo travelers who’ve already been to the destination, on how to predict trouble, what not to do, which locations in the city are notorious, what are the other risks you should factor etc
Minimizing Impact
Self defense skills & accessories

Watch various movies (such as Taken series) to learn various skills and tricks how people manage to come out of seemingly impossible situations
Recovery
Can vary based on gravity of the situation and how strong a person is to handle them. One may decide to take legal route, try to penalize the culprits or try to forget and move on etc

Risk 4: Personal Injury/Health issues
Probability
Very Low
Severity
High
How to Avoid
Be attentive to your surroundings, particularly in public places- do not get lost in phone, camera, talking etc

Have proper travel insurance to cover possible injury/hospitalization while travel

Check online for any possible health hazards (like Vietnam & some south East Asian countries have Malaria risk- carry mosquito repellant liquids etc)

Follow traffic rules and other safety precautions while traveling around

Keep some details in your person- like a visiting card or passport copy, so that if you meet with accident police or public know who you are, whom to contact etc.

Better situation awareness
-You realize that a boat is overcrowded and no life jackets are being given- Do you decide not to get on it? If you do are you confident you can swim to shore if it capsizes?
- You're in an extremely crowded area- do you know nearest exits? Have you secured your belongings well from being stolen?
Minimizing Impact
Cut short trip n return home if needed/possible

Take care in hospital
Ask a friend or family member to fly in if you need assistance
Recovery
Claim insurance to recover expenses
Consult family doctor for any additional precautions needed

Risk 5: Terror Attack
Probability
Very Low
Severity
High
How to Avoid
If security agencies can’t predict and prevent a terror attack, there is nothing much a civilian can do. Just hope that luck is in your favor, but below might just help

Avoid extremely crowded areas/very popular events if possible- these are usually primary targets

Be attentive to people around you, keep note of possible escape routes/hiding spots/barricades that can offer some protection from bullets/sharpnells

If a particular destination is popular for terror attacks or there's been multiple attacks in recent past you might wish to avoid traveling altogether
Minimizing Impact
Keep your phone on silent mode, to avoid giving away your hide out.

Take cover where possible-behind anything that can absorb impact of a bullet or shrapnel

Try to identify position of the shooters, how many etc. This analysis is important before deciding to flee. Random running around might backfire.

Note that stampede of people trying to escape/run away can cause more deaths. If you feel you’re in a safer hideout, stay put there if there’s no easy exit
Recovery
If it occurs and you survive, be ready to get some media publicity

Security will be super tight after an attack. Expect more checking and delays. Avoid unwanted travel and stay safe till it feels safe to travel further or return home.

Risk 6: Natural Calamities (Volcano/Earthquake/Cyclone etc)
Probability
Very Low
Severity
High
How to Avoid
Stay on top of news to know if there’s anything predicted for your location

Change your plans or prepare to secure yourself if there’s some trouble expected

Minimizing Impact
Essential supplies might get affected during natural calamities- stock some essential stuffs and learn to survive on bare minimum

Communication network might fail- while it is working, keep your loved ones updated of your latest location, plans etc

Watch movies related to natural calamities- you will get an idea on what to expect, what is worst case scenario and how to survive

Make friends with people around you, help each other. Don’t hesitate to take help from locals.

Learn to separate rumor from real news, learn to avoid panic and assess the situation with calm mind
Recovery
Take help from any government/volunteer/NGO offered assistance to come out of danger and return home.

Risk 7: Flight delays & cancellations
Probability
Medium
Severity
Medium/Low
How to Avoid
Nothing can be done to avoid flight delays n cancellation but you can check an airline’s reputation & reliability while booking- avoid airlines with very bad scores if possible

Minimizing Impact
Be aware of your rights & insurance coverage for delays n cancellation

Try to be nice to airline staff n work with them for alternate arrangements.
Recovery
In case of major delay you’ll have to reschedule or modify your day 0/day 1 plans

Risk 8: Visa/Entry denied (immigration concerns)
Probability
Low
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Get visa in advance if possible/required
Have enough cash to cover your trip
Be ready with convincing answers to questions like “why your spouse is not traveling with you” etc
Have proper plan for your trip- hotel confirmations, itinerary, where to visit etc
Be ready to show them some evidence that you will not overstay n come back home as per plan

Minimizing Impact
Nothing much can be done if Visa is denied or you’re deported. Come back home, go elsewhere or apply fresh
Recovery
Try to assess why you were denied visa or deported, try to avoid same mistake next time

Risk 9: Scams -tourists being tricked to spend more money
Probability
Very High
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Do adequate online reading to know what are the popular ways tourists are tricked in a country. [Check list for Bali here, Vietnam here]

For the services you’re planning to avail or goods you’re planning to buy, do some checks online to know what is the fair price and right place/shop to buy

For the services you’re buying, know what is included, what is excluded

Bargain/cross check in multiple shops before buying

Avoid buying at shops frequented by tourists. Shop where locals buy
Minimizing Impact
It is ok if you’re tricked to pay a few% more-don’t worry too much. Be careful next time onwards

If you feel you’re being charged too much, be ready to refuse the product/service and walk away
Recovery
NA

Risk 10: Weather playing spoilsport
Probability
Very High
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
It is not possible to predict rains months in advance while booking your tickets. Sometime heavy rain will prevent you from your planned outdoor activities. It is ok if one or two days have to be partially sacrificed due to rain

Keep some indoor destinations as back-up plan to avoid full day from being washed out (like museums, temples etc)

Carry/buy raincoats/umbrellas etc to deal with bad weather
Minimizing Impact
Check how you can spend the time better- write a blog post or chat with hostel mates etc
Recovery
NA

Risk 11: Getting Lost/ Not being able to plan your day well
Probability
Low
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Avoid going solo to remote places (like mountains etc) if you’re not confident enough or not experienced enough

Keep a friend/family informed about your plans for the day

Develop a sense of direction- if lost you should be able to guess which direction is the city so as to avoid walking deeper into forest. Use stars or sunrise/sunset or view from a  viewpoint etc to predict direction

Carry enough survival gears- power-bank, water, food etc

Periodic checks to ascertain your position, direction and safety

Store helpline numbers (911/police station numbers or friends number to call if you have signal)
Minimizing Impact
If lost in city/villages you can always seek help from people. If lost in remote areas, it is possible to survive and come out- stay confident and use your skills to survive and exit.
Recovery
NA

Risk 12: Robbery
Probability
Low
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Robbery usually happens at isolated places and in areas that are dark/notorious for bad guys. Avoid such places where possible

Robbers often target people whom they think have lots of money or valuable. If your appearance gives them an idea that you’re rich, you face higher risk of being robbed. If you can wear simple cloths, don’t flaunt any cash/expensive jewelry/gadgets etc you will probably be ignored.

Keeping an extra wallet with some minimum cash n some old cards might come in handy when someone is trying to rob you.
Minimizing Impact
Take help from police, who might be able to help.
Don't panic, note down robbers' face, vehicle number etc where possible
Recovery
NA

Risk 13: Not getting proper veg food
Probability
Medium
Severity
Medium
How to Avoid
Note down availability of Veg/Indian restaurants in destination city

Carry some stuff from home if you feel it helps

Many apps like Happy Cow help locate nearest veg restaurants
Minimizing Impact
Human beings can survive without food for upto 7 days, so this is not at all a risk for short trips.

It is possible to survive for a few days on fruits, juices, bread, buns etc which are usually available in supermarkets

Instant noodles, vegetables like cucumber, Tender coconut

Plain rice
Recovery
Eat to your heart's content when you come back home or at transit airports etc

Some of these risks exist even when you're traveling as a couple or group, just that their probability and impact might be lesser due to presence of other trusted people around.

These are not comprehensive list. I've only listed popular risks here. Depending on your destination, plan and personal appetite for risks you've to draw above tables for your trip.

  • If you're visiting some countries in Africa there will be additional security risk.
  • If you're visiting Middle East as solo women expect more paperwork n questions during Visa,
  • If you've planned some adventure activities they come with their own set of risks.
  • If you're renting a car or bike it comes with its own set of risks.
  • If you drink, smoke, consume drugs, they may amplify the risk

So depending on your destination, high level plan, draw the risks, their probability and mitigation. Discuss with your family n friends and those who've been to the destination to ensure your assessment is comprehensive.

Once you draw up above table for the risks involved in your trip, you've to decide if you'd like to take these risks or totally avoid it. Some risks there's no point running away from- For example, if you fear someone may lift your wallet, you will be stuck indoor all your life. This risk you've to go out and face. On the other hand, if you feel visiting a country is a big security risk- like if you visit Somalia there is very high chance that you will be kidnapped and the rewards of visiting is just not worth the risk you've to drop your plans of visiting the country and plan to go elsewhere. Other risks like possible sexual harassment is there all over the world-not possible to eliminate 100% but probability can be reduced to very low levels through various measures.

If you feel confident and prepared to face these risks in the event of their occurrence, then proceed with your trip, if not either modify your plan to avoid the risks or play safe by not going at all (which defeats the hole purpose but if the confidence level is not enough or risk is deemed too high better play safe than sorry).

Here's what a few of my female blogger friends, who have done solo trips, had to add

Ami Bhat, who writes at Thrilling Travel says:

To be honest, the only one risk that every woman is possibly worried about is getting molested or compromised.  Having said that, it is no secret that you run the same risk in your own city. The only reason you feel safe about your home, is owing to its familiarity.  This is frankly, where the solution lies – get prepared and familiar with where you are traveling.  Know your area of stay and your mode of commute. Stay connected as much as possible. Avoid odd hour ventures – you maybe a party animal at home but remember you are not really at home. Besides these, all the other risks are generally, faced by all travelers – irrespective of gender or whether they are in a group or solo.

Chittra M who blogs at Masala Box travel states as below
Going on your first solo travel can be quite a daunting task. My first solo trip - I would plan, re plan it many times, went through the plan many times and I had almost lived the experience even before I was at the place. I knew where I was going, what I was doing, where I would be staying, everything to the point. It is a leap that I took or rather the urge to travel but no one was there to accompany you that you eventually take the reins and go on yourself. But when the trip started, the fears disappeared, I was enjoying it, found it more comfortable and honestly did not require so much planning. Now when I go on solo trips, I don’t plan itinerary or place of stay before the trip, sometimes not even a return ticket, it is all done on the go with interests changing on the road. The things I research beforehand is about commuting options within the city, culture of the place, any specific rule imposed for women, weather, sunset time.  Culture of the place to know how to dress and not to disrespect a place, people, custom or religion. Sunset time to set out early, sight see and return to around your place of stay by sun set. If you ever feel lonely, join for walking trails, get on a hop on hop off bus, look for couch surf members to hangout and show you around. A friendly smile and open to conversations with people will always come in handy. The truth is how much ever we have heard about sexual harassment, put up with catcalls, been through ogles; the world is much much kinder to the woman traveler and they always come to help or guide you.

Divyakshi Gupta, who blogs at QuirkyWanderer has this to say...

There is no place or destination that guarantees women safety. But that does not mean women should not travel at all. I have traveled to Vrindavan for Holi with UTMOST precaution and I did not act silly because prevention is better than cure. My advise to women travelers is research well, download offline Google maps, use the Live location on WhatsApp and share your location with family, keep a pepper spray, use your gut feel. It is very important to be alert while traveling and while traveling is about liberation and freedom, throwing caution to the winds and drawing attention is a strict no-no! Always remember: You have to be your own hero!

Hope this helps. Wishing you safe travels.
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4 comments:

  1. U have mention all the risks that a solo traveler can have and I have mention benefits of solo traveling in my post.

    http://www.travelfoodnfitness.com/the-benefits-of-solo-travelling/

    ReplyDelete

Appreciate your efforts and interests to comment. Comments may be moderated due to increased spam. Will ideally respond to comments within few days- Shrinidhi

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